By Sanlé Sory
Burkinabe photographer Sanlé Sory is the owner of the Volta Photo studio in Bobo-Dioulasso, where he began his photographic career in 1960 — the year Burkina Faso gained independence from France. His early pictures captured a pivotal moment in his country’s history and his work has been exhibited in major galleries, including the Art Institute of Chicago. A selection of his photographs, taken between 1965 and 1985, is on show in London.
Although I was born in the countryside, I have lived and worked in Bobo-Dioulasso for more than six decades. Being a hub of commerce, Bobo is a busy town but is still laid-back in attitude. The weather is usually fine and it is a very green city, with leafy streets. I like the whole environment and feel of this city, especially its people, who I have photographed endlessly.
I enjoy the old municipal garden, which was formerly called the Jardin Botanique but now is just a municipal park; I took many colour shots there for the covers of Volta Jazz singles. Back then and today, it is still a quiet place. The zoo is gone, but I like to sit there and enjoy the shade from the large trees.
I don’t go out much now. I usually like to have my tô (a local dish made from whipped sorgo, millet or corn flour with various sauces) in my courtyard with my family, or sometimes share a nice roast chicken and locally grown rice with friends, such as my cousin Idrissa Koné — who helped me finance my Volta Photo studio and was founder of Volta Jazz — or former Volta Jazz musician Boureima Traoré.
Where to live: Secteur 25
The old Bobo neighbourhood around the historical Grande Mosquée is very nice, although it can get pretty crowded and dusty. The old colonial quarter of the city with its large avenues is rather beautiful and has some grand houses.
However, for many years I’ve lived around Secteur 25, in the Korsoma neighbourhood. The area is nice and quite well preserved, with gardens and trees — even if we don’t have paved roads; ours are rather reddish dirt roads. But I like it as it is: very quiet.
I have had studios in different parts of the city over the years, such as Diaradougou, which has a large Malian community, and Farakan, just off the main boulevard where I still have a small place that I mostly use for storage these days.
Commercial photography is not what it used to be in Bobo and people don’t care about photographs as they used to. Nowadays everyone is a photographer with their smartphones.
Where to have a drink
I sometimes hang out around the pool at the Auberge Hotel when my friend [music producer] Florent Mazzoleni is in town. We talk about the old times and share ideas about pictures, books exhibitions and new prints. That’s where my photography career started. It is the oldest hotel in the city and has a strong 1950s vibe. I know most of the staff there.
Where to relax
I like to sit outside my house under a mango tree, with neighbours or family. The maquis (local bars) at the scenic Bobo railway station are also really nice. Sometimes, I visit relatives in villages along the Vallée du Kou. It is only a few kilometres away, but is so quiet compared with the bustle of the city.
When I was actively working, I used to organise dust ball parties (bals poussières) there, then photograph the people dancing and enjoying themselves. These are locally organised or homemade parties common all over Africa — [the word] dust referring to the dancers moving dust around while having a ball.
Where to discover culture
We used to have many movie theatres, but they are all gone. It is the same for the dancing spots and clubs I used to frequent, although some new ones, like Le Bois d’Ebène, are quite nice.
There is a small museum dedicated to Bobo’s history, the Sogossira Sanou municipal museum, by the Rond Point des Nations. To me, history is talking with the people: it gives me a view of today through the past.
Where to work out
Being a former weightlifter and karateka, I used to take care of myself very well. Now I am too old for that, but I walk around town every day. It is good exercise and I like to visit Bobo’s central market, the Grand Marché, to see some old faces. Hopefully, I will also meet some new customers as I still like to photograph people — but today it is with my digital camera.
A solo exhibition of Sanlé Sory’s work is at The Arts Club, London, until January
Photographs: Florent Mazzoleni; Sanlé Sory; Alamy StockPhoto; Getty Images/iStockphoto